Trayvon Martin Remembered at Harlem Hoodie March
HARLEM — Christopher Franco has no doubt that what happened to Florida teen Trayvon Martin could have just as easily happened to him.
"Because of the way you dress, some police officers think you are a hoodlum," said the junior at Democracy Prep Charter High School.
"They think you are the next drug dealer. Trayvon Martin is in the same position we are. It could have been any one of us."
Franco and his fellow students organized a rally and march Thursday evening to express their outrage at the February shooting death of the unarmed Martin, 17, who was black and shot by volunteer neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman.
The shooter has yet to be charged or arrested.
With a respite from their normally stringent dress code, the students wore hooded sweatshirts pulled over their heads — the same clothing as Martin.
They held signs that read "I am Trayvon Martin."
Dubbed the "240 Hoodie March" for the number of students enrolled at the Democracy Prep Charter High School, participants marched from the school on 133rd Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard through the streets of Harlem.
In their hands, they held packages of Skittles candy and cans of iced tea, the two items Martin had purchase from a store before he was killed.
"That's what's up. Thank you," said one man as the hooded students marched up the boulevard.
"I love this," said another man.
The students said their march had three goals. They wanted to raise money for the Trayvon Martin Foundation, lobby Florida to change its "stand your ground" self-defense law which police cited in not arresting Zimmerman after the shooting, and call for Zimmerman to be placed on trial for the shooting.
"A black man or Latino man with a hoodie is not a dangerous or suspicious man," said student Tayquane Jackson.
"I suport Trayvon Martin because I'm a 16-year-old kid and I am not dangerous even when I wear my hoodie," he added.
Student Ashley Bunce said she wanted to "make a change for Trayvon Martin," urging legislators to change the "stand your ground" law because it "gives the right to harm people even when they aren't doing anything."
Anthony Wright, 15, a sophomore, agreed.
"If no one is willing to fight for change then none of the the laws will change," said Wright.
"I feel frustrated with the people who write the law because, once again, the law has failed," ninth grader Shanell Acosta said.
Martin's death has ignited protests and rallies across the country calling for a change to Florida's "stand your ground" law and for Zimmerman to be arrested and charged in the case.
Many students said they felt empowered by taking action in Thursday's protest.
"If we do nothing change will never come," said student Victoria Rodriguez. "We must voice our opinion responsibly and dedicate our time to work toward change."
But what was most alarming to students at the school was just how similiar they were to Martin and how easily his life was cut short. They said they often feel the sting of being stereotyped because of their race or clothing. The school is comprised of almost all Black and Latino students.
"Trayvon Martin was just a high school student like me and the rest of you guys," said ninth grader Mekhia Whitfield. "Think about it. He's 17 and dead."
Danielle Scott, 17, a junior, was overcome with emotion when she tried to express her feelings about what happened to Martin.
"The motto of our school is work hard, go to college and change the world. But we can't do that if we are being killed," she said.